The morning of July 9 was shaping up to be like any other for George Gritz as he sipped his coffee at the Pheasant Cafe downtown.
But things quickly turned south when a friend of his, Richard Vern, collapsed outside the restaurant.
“I didn’t wait,” Gritz said.
Immediately, he and several others ran to Vern, who was suffering from cardiac arrest. Gritz turned him onto his back, and started administering chest compressions, fearing the worst.
“It felt like forever, but it was only a few minutes before the fire department came,” Gritz said. “Thank God, it worked.”
The two know each other from around town, and often spend mornings chatting over breakfast and coffee.
“He is pretty well known around town. And a hell of a nice guy,” Gritz said.
Vern stood healthy and tall as he joked with Gritz about their differing political views before a room full of people Wednesday night, when Umatilla County Fire District 1 awarded Gritz a plaque for his actions.
“Nationwide, the rate of people coming back from cardiac arrest is about 10 percent,” said UCFD1 Lt. Josh Smith. “Less than half of the time, someone steps in to do something.”
Smith was one of the first responders on the scene the morning of the incident.
“We want people to act with CPR,” he said.
For Gritz, this wasn’t the first, or even the second time that his CPR training helped save a life.
He received his certification back in the 1980s, when he was working construction in Hermiston. Just a few weeks after finishing his class, a man collapsed at a restaurant in Pendleton and Gritz came to the rescue.
“That restaurant was packed,” he said.
But he was the only one to step up and offer assistance.
Years later, it happened again at a restaurant in Portland. And last year, when his late wife collapsed, Gritz administered CPR until first responders came.
“You can’t be afraid to step up. If you don’t, nobody’s willing to. Every time I’ve been in this position, it’s surprised me,” he said. “You don’t want to panic. What are you going to do wrong?”